Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Driving in the USA Part II - Buying a car

It all began at a party in Richmond. Shortly after my arrival in the US, I had to fly down to Richmond for 2 week new hire onboarding session, with all the other IIT and IIM recruits. On one of those days, an IIT guy who had been in the company for 2-3 years hosted a party. Several new hires and old timers at the company attended it. Among several other interesting topics, the veterans gave us freshers some advice on buying cars. They quizzed us one by one on what qualities we wanted in a car, and then suggested options. I naturally said that I wanted a sleek, elegant car, and also described attributes I didn't like. I also needed a car that ran well and was reasonably fuel efficient. They concluded that I should either buy a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord.

Well, after that, I looked at cars and cars and more cars. Here's how: I would walk around our company parking lot(which occupies more space than the office building itself, which must tell you something about the size of our cubicles), staring at cars and their make and model. I quickly eliminated some cars. Surprisingly, the 2005 Toyota Camry doesn't really look that good. (Remember the new car I gave my test in? This was it. It drives BEAUTIFULLY, though. Very smooth steering and this baby GOES when you push the accelerator)
Anyway, staring at cars was an obsession for a short while

I knew that I couldn't afford a new car, or even get financing for it. This whole financing deal will the subject of a separate blog: Credit 101 for H1-B visa holders.
It is sufficient to note that the only way to finance a car if you are new to the US, is to go to a credit union. I am told that you may have to "lie" and say that you are a US citizen. If you are caught, I have thought of a good retort: "As H1-B visa holders, we are more privileged than citizens, I mean the government WANTS us to be here and has quotas and stuff. Whereas several US citizens are children of illegal immigrants who decided to have kids on US soil" Well, it sounds nice, at least.

I also definitely didn't want to buy a Kia. (For those of you not in the US, a Kia is the worst kind of car you can buy. Kia dealers offer you $3000 cash back and cushy financing - they are so desperate to sell their cars. Kia owners are supposed to be good for nothing folks who can't do anything in life...and all auto finance companies know that if you finance a Kia, your totalled losses ( a total loss is when you wreck the car) are really total: they can't recover a single cent from it. People just walk away from a wrecked Kia and don't report it to the insurance company!

I started used car shopping. I looked at several ads for cars on the internet. The website is I shortlisted a few cars I wanted to look at, and visited the owners with my uncle. We also went to Carmax, but the cars were way beyond my budget. Even if my uncle co-signed the loan, I would have to pay absurdly high interest rates.

Finally, we settled on a 1999 Toyota Camry. I almost didn't buy it because I had just flunked the driving test for a second time. I was planning to survive on my 2 feet and taxis and get the hell out of Plano asap. I am glad I bought it, though. I can't live without it, because there is no public transport. It drives really well and all that and looks just like me: lean and elegant! (Adjectives courtesy my aunt :-) ) It is beigie-ish in color, so basically it is one among thousands of other camrys like it. Camrys and Accords are really popular among Indians because they are reliable, drive well, and go on and on and on like energizer bunnies - mine had 134000 miles on it when I bought it.

Anyway, that's my story for now. If you see a beige Camry accelerating at a rapid rate while merging onto PGBT on a weekend, you can be sure its me....I don't know if I would have been able to merge onto a freeway in my initial driving days if I wasn't confident of my car going from 40 mph to 65 mph in no time at all.

Look out for Part III My Driving Adventures in the USA!!!!

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